Many believe that Mahinda Rajapaksa was dislodged, after a decade in power without serious challenge, by his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, only in a closely contested presidential race. Though the result evoked surprise and only reluctantly accepted by Mahinda, the writing on the wall was become evident in the course of the campaign. Desperate ruling alliance supporters became increasingly violent towards the end of the campaign. At the end, the common opposition comprising all sections of Lankan ethnic groups won over the ruling United Progressive Freedom Alliance by a margin of more than 300,000 votes.
Actually, Rajapaksa decided to go for snap elections to avoid the risk of facing a much stronger anti-incumbency sentiment two years later. Cunningly, Mahinda observed the definitive decline in his government’s popularity in the provincial council polls.
To secure his position among the Sinhala masses, his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa allegedly cultivated radical Buddhist groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) which ran a fascistic anti-Muslim campaign in the garb of protecting the Sinhala people. Orchestrated violence against Muslims was unchecked by security forces lending credence to the allegations.
On the other hand, Mahinda regime neglected the Tamil national problem. They hardly took any sincere step to devolve power.
Not that people expected after savage destruction of the Tamil civilization, any devolution of power from the Mahinda regime; he repeatedly promised substantial devolution power to the Tamil people.
Especially when ever Indian leaders raised the question, he came out with such promises. Besides alienating the minorities, the government’s economic policies were unpopular. More than half the population felt they were worse off.
Many Chinese funded infrastructure projects were seen as white elephants, enriching the coffers of the ruling elite. In any case these did not result in tangible economic benefits.
The ruling family was increasingly seen as corrupt and worse, autocratic. Journalistic freedom was restricted and there were attacks on media leading to killings and disappearances.
Now all these have gone and the defeat of the Mahinda group is obvious. People are expecting a new era with a new constitution that can create a power full democratic society.
The executive presidency, immensely strengthened by the 18th amendment, was expected to be diluted to restore parliamentary control. If that happened quickly, the prime minister, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, would have been the effective head of government with the possibility of President Sirisena getting reduced to a titular head. 19th amendment gave a half way situation creating a dynamic equilibrium between Maithree and Ranil. This transitional situation has opened the room for opportunistic manipulations and cunning intrigues.
How ever the President and Prime Minister, at the beginning, have collectively worked to satisfy the hopeful masses. They issued the necessary instructions on the political stage to implement the law to the letter with regard to everyone alike and have openly canvassed that action be taken irrespective of individual position or party affiliation.
But now some powerful critiques question them. Both the Prime Minister and President seem to be silent over Ministers in the Unity Government who have serious allegations against them. As citizens that supported the democratic change, they feel that corruption cases must proceed without discrimination. Corruption costs society money, which should be considered as a serious loss that should be eliminated without delay.
President Maithripala revealed, yesterday, that the first action he took using his executive powers was to remove former chief justice Mohan Peiris, when he came and begged him not to remove him from his post and expressed his willingness to do anything he wanted.
The president revealed this while addressing a public meeting in Warakapola. “Chief Justice Mohan Peiris came to meet me. I told him there was no intention of removing him from his post and told him to leave my residence,” the president said. But he returned the next day and begged me not to remove him from his post, he said.
“Then I realized how these people had been in the habit of giving judgments to suit the previous regime. Therefore, I decided to remove him from his post at once, using my executive powers for the first time”, he said.
This action and several such actions show that Maithree is strongly committed to justice and fair play. However supporters of the UNP see this as an attempt to consolidate presidency as an independent force to intervene and to do justice when delay and deficiency occur in ministries and other government organizations. Though not backed by the constitution such a style of work could built a tradition and power to the post of presidency.
Others, who support Maithree as an uncorrupt, un- assumed traditional leader, raise the question- “shouldn’t the President consider corruption an ethical problem and also behavioural problem? He should be committed to solving this problem by means of the personal ‘reform’ and reform of his party members as well.” I cannot understand why they should clash on this matter as president insist that he always consult Ranil and the cabinet before intervening.
Dr Vickramabahu Karunarathne, BARRACKS LANE, COLOMBO 2
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